Pentecost 16 A: Choosing Joy

Matthew 20:1-16 Dear Partner in Preaching, One of the “life rules” I’ve adopted as I grow older – and try to live by (always harder!) – is that “no joy comes from comparisons.” Have you ever noticed that? Rather than be content with what you have or who you are or what you’ve accomplished, we so regularly look to those around us to decide whether it is enough based on what others have or are or have accomplished. I suspect this is part of being human – being animated by a deep-seated insecurity that makes it difficult for us to establish some sense of ourselves apart from an external reference. And so we enjoy the car we...

Pentecost 15 A: Forgiveness & Possibility

Matthew 18:21-35 Dear Partner in Preaching, I have come to love this passage. The operative words, however, are “have come,” because I didn’t always. And I the reasons I didn’t always love this passage, but now do, are intimately tied together. My difficulty with the passage has quite simply been that forgiveness can be so exceptionally difficult, and never more so than when it commanded. I don’t mean the occasional moment of warm-hearted forgiveness, overlooking someone’s minor slight when you feel magnanimous; nor do I mean the spontaneous forgiveness you feel when someone is genuinely contrite over some accidental – and...

Pentecost 14 A – Christian Community

Matthew 18:15-20 Dear Partner in Preaching, So what do you think? Rules or relationships? I think this may be the central question to answer in our reading and preaching of this particular passage in Matthew. Is he giving us rules to live by or privileging relationships over, well, just about everything else in our life as Christians. If the former, then you have a rather neat little formula for maintaining a semblance of order in the Christian community. Someone offends you, confront them. If that doesn’t work, try an intervention. If that fails, cut them off and kick them out. If nothing else, it’s at least straight forward, which is...

Pentecost 13 A: Can You Imagine?

Matthew 16:21-28 Dear Partner in Preaching, Can you imagine? One moment, Jesus is saying you’re “the rock on which I will build my church” and the next he’s calling you “a stumbling block.” That’s not just great word play – from cornerstone to stumbling block – but such a reversal of relational fortune that it had to be incredibly painful. Can you imagine? And perhaps that’s the difficulty. Peter couldn’t imagine. He couldn’t imagine that Jesus had come not just to comfort people but to free them. Comforting isn’t that hard – just give them a little more of what they already had and tell them it will be alright....

Pentecost 12 A: Pausing to Give Thanks

Matthew 16:13-20 Dear Partner in Preaching, This week’s reading probably ranks among my least favorite lectionary editorial choices – not because it’s not a great story and, for that matter, an important story, but because of how the lectionary divides it into two parts, disrupting, if not subverting, what feels like the narrative integrity of the story. In short, it’s just really, really hard for me to read this week’s praise and affirmation of Peter apart from next week’s reversal and rebuke as he gains far more insight into the depth and cost of his confession. Then again – don’t you love it when the text and/or...

Pentecost 11 A: The Canaanite Woman’s Lesson

Matthew 15:21-28 Dear Partner in Preaching, I find the story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman one of the most painful in Scripture. This year, I also find it one of the most timely. First, the pain: Jesus treats her, well, abominably. When she begs him for mercy for the sake of her tormented daughter, he ignores her, remaining silent in the face of her pleas. He then seems to give in to the pressure of his disciples urging him to send her away. When she refuses to be ignored and pleas her case once more, he insults her by calling her a dog. It all feels, quite frankly, rather awful and not at all like the Jesus we expect. Now, I know the...